Cardiovascular disease, specifically atherosclerosis, is exacerbated by hypercholesterolemia. Current therapies that target lipid lowering, however, are not effective in all patients. Apolipoprotein E (apoE) plays an important role in mediating the clearance of plasma cholesterol and also exerts numerous cytoprotective responses. Our laboratory has synthesized novel therapeutics that mimic the ability of apoE to decrease plasma cholesterol. The apoE mimetic peptide AEM-2 is a dual domain peptide composed of an amphipathic helical region that binds phospholipids and a positively charged region that mediates the hepatic clearance of lipoproteins. Administration of AEM-2 to apoE-null mice reduced plasma cholesterol concentration by 80% one hour post-administration. Since apoE is also known to exert anti-inflammatory effects that are independent of its ability to lower cholesterol, we tested effects of AEM-2 on lipopolysaccharide-induced responses in human THP-1 macrophages. Pre-treatment of THP-1 cells with AEM-2 significantly reduced the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced secretion of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα). Since LPS administration is associated with an increase in mitochondrial injury, we monitored effects of AEM-2 on mitochondrial function. AEM-2 significantly reduced mitochondrial superoxide formation, prevented the LPS-induced decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential and attenuated the release of cytochrome c. AEM-2 also inhibited the activities of initiator caspases 8 and 9 and effector caspase 3. The attenuation of apoptosis in AEM-2-treated cells was associated with an increase in cellular autophagy. These data suggest that AEM-2 attenuates cellular injury in LPS-treated THP-1 macrophages and facilitates the removal of cellular debris and damaged organelles via induction of autophagy.
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